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Breaking the Ice: Judgeship opens new direction in criminal law

Name: Jill Eichenwald

Title: Judge, 6th Judicial District

Education: B.A., psychology, College of St. Scholastica; J.D., Mitchell Hamline School of Law

For 6th Judicial District Judge Jill Eichenwald, serving on the bench enables her to continue working in criminal law without the stress of being a public defender.

Eichenwald, whose chambers are in Duluth, particularly wanted to serve in the 6th District to be part of the innovative services developed there.

“Our treatment courts, we’re a leader throughout the state,” Eichenwald said. “We have as many treatment court options as Hennepin County does. We have a veterans court, a mental health court, a drug court, a DUI court. …

“The judges here are all willing to be a part of larger conversations to solve underlying problems in the community that contribute to using our justice resources.”

Eichenwald had a solo practice before joining the 6th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office.

“There was a desire to be learning and doing new things but I didn’t want to give up working within criminal law,” Eichenwald, appointed in 2015, said of transitioning to the bench.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Ask about my kids and my family. I have twins who are 20. They’re sophomores in college. They’re both really great people. My daughter is an athlete. Currently her sport is golf, but she also plays hockey. She goes to college at St. Scholastica, my alma mater here locally. My son is in St. Louis, Missouri, in a conservatory program at Webster University studying musical theater. He’s a talented young man who is very lucky to be able to pursue that. That or Disney. I’m a bit of a Disney fanatic. My children are also Disney fanatics.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. Ninth grade we studied the judicial system in government, and we did mock trials, and that was when I declared I was going to be a lawyer.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. Jodi Picoult, “Small Great Things,” was the most recent book that I’ve been recommending to people. She does a lot of current legal ethical issues stuff. This one also just happened to encompass race stuff as well. This particular book had a public defender that was very true to my experience. I also like historical fiction, particularly about World War II and the Holocaust.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. Nature photography. It’s something I’m able to do when I’m out hiking and walking our lake whether it’s the beach or the lake walk.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. Fred Friedman, who was the chief public defender here for many years. I always admired his legal knowledge. I consider him my primary mentor. With Fred, truly more than almost anybody I’ve ever met, there is not a person who is not worthy of his time.

With Judge [Sean] Floerke, his compassion for sure. Obviously he’s a smart man. All of my colleagues are smart; all of my colleagues are of good character. But it’s his compassion, his drive to be an agent of change, to not only identify problems but then to find innovative solutions to them.

Q. What, if any, is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A. “The Practice.” The defense attorneys were regularly struggling with professional responsibility issues, professional ethics issues. They would set up scenarios where what they should do from usually the professional responsibility perspective was somehow in contrast to personal ethics. That was always intriguing.

“Bull,” which is about using social psychology in the courtroom, and I just find that fascinating. I don’t find it realistic. But I find it fascinating. That was my research project in college, social psychology in the courtroom. So now, 30 years later, to have them using technology in addition to the social science research in the courtroom to impact or influence a case has been a very interesting concept to me.

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